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Differences Among Charcoal Types: Soft, Medium and Hard. Which one is the Best?

Updated: May 7, 2021

No matter how messy it is, charcoal is my favorite medium. I believe you can create contrast so easily with charcoal and make your drawing more realistic! Here in this short article I would like to talk about something that I get a lot of questions about: What are the differences between the charcoal pencils? How should we decide which one to get?

First and foremost, the more binder you get in your compressed charcoal, the harder the pencil will be. HB (Hard), 2B (Medium), 4B (Soft) and a 6B (Extra Soft) are the most commonly used types of charcoal pencils.

The pencils you see in the photo are General's Charcoal and I am really happy about them. I can easily say that they are my favorite supplies together with my Caran d'Ache colored pencil set. From the length of the pencils, you can tell that I don't use the hard one very often.

Let me show you how they look on paper. As you can see below, the softer the charcoal, the darker it is. In the extra soft one, you barely see the the white tooth of the paper. It is almost entirely black. Whereas in hard example you see the paper showing through.

There is also another difference: Soft ones create more charcoal dust then the hard and medium. This makes sense because as I mentioned before, the softer the pencil, the less binder in it, leaving the charcoal dusts free. If you look at the photo below, you will see that extra soft creates even more dust then the soft one. This is why it is a great idea to use soft pencils in much wider areas and draw details more with medium or hard pencils.

In my portrait studies, I usually draw with medium charcoal as it is easy to blend and most of it stays on the paper where I draw the line. Speaking of blending, let's see how they blend when we use a blending stump.